Neville Chamberlain

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Neville Chamberlain

Arthur Neville Chamberlain (March 18, 1869 – November 9, 1940) was a British politician from a famous political dynasty. After being Mayor of Birmingham, he went into national politics and was Chairman of the Conservative Party from 1929 to 1931. During the National Government of Ramsay Macdonald, Chamberlain served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He later succeeded Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1937; his government was marked by the build-up to war with Germany. Chamberlain negotiated an agreement with Adolf Hitler which Hitler never intended to honour; he declared war in September 1939 owing to a mutual defence pact with Poland, which Hitler's Germany had invaded.

Quotes[edit]

Minster of Health[edit]

  • In common with my colleagues, I recognise that no single remedy can be a complete cure, but while I am ready to examine every proposal...I must frankly say that I believe a tariff levied on imported foreign goods will be found to be indispensable...The ultimate destiny of this country is bound up with the Empire...I hope to take my part in forwarding a policy which was the main subject of my father's last great political campaign...I hope that we may presently develop into a National Party, and get rid of that odious title of Conservative, which has kept so many from joining us in the past.
    • Election address in Birmingham (October 1931), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), pp. 196-197.

Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

  • There can have been few occasions in all our long political history when to the son of a man who counted for something in his day and generation has been vouchsafed the privilege of setting the seal on the work which the father began but had perforce to leave unfinished. Nearly 29 years have passed since Joseph Chamberlain entered upon his great campaign in favour of Imperial Preference and Tariff Reform. More than 17 years have gone by since he died, without having seen the fulfilment of his aims and yet convinced that, if not exactly in his way, yet in some modified form his vision would eventually take shape. His work was not in vain. Time and the misfortunes of the country have brought conviction to many who did not feel that they could agree with him then. I believe he would have found consolation for the bitterness of his disappointment if he could have foreseen that these proposals, which are the direct and legitimate descendants of his own conception, would be laid before the House of Commons, which he loved, in the presence of one and by the lips of the other of the two immediate successors to his name and blood.
  • Of all countries passing through these difficult times the one that has stood the test with the greatest measure of success is the United Kingdom. Without underrating the hardships of our situation—the long tragedy of the unemployed, the grievous burden of taxation, the arduous and painful struggle of those engaged in trade and industry—at any rate we are free from that fear, which besets so many less fortunately placed, the fear that things are going to get worse. We owe our freedom from that fear largely to the fact that we have balanced our Budget.
    • Speech in the House of Commons as Chancellor of the Exchequer (25 April 1933)
  • In 1932 many dark clouds still hung round the horizon. In 1933, although the outlook was distinctly brighter, there was no settled feeling that we were about to enjoy a spell of fine weather. To-day the atmosphere is distinctly brighter. The events of the last 12 months have shown gratifying evidence that the efforts of His Majesty's Government are bearing fruit...If you look to what I might call the telltale statistics, the unemployment figures and statistics of such things as retail trade, consumption of electricity, transport, iron and steel production and house building, in every case you see a definite revival of activity...If I might borrow an illustration from the titles of two well-known works of fiction, I would say that we have now finished the story of "Bleak House" and that we are sitting down this afternoon to enjoy the first chapter of "Great Expectations."
  • The Labour Party, obviously intends to fasten upon our backs the accusation of being 'warmongers' and they are suggesting that we have 'hush hush' plans for rearmament which we are concealing from the people. As a matter of fact we are working on plans for rearmament at an early date for the situation in Europe is most alarming...We are not sufficiently advanced to reveal our ideas to the public, but of course we cannot deny the general charge of rearmament and no doubt if we try to keep our ideas secret till after the election, we should either fail, or if we succeeded, lay ourselves open to the far more damaging accusation that we had deliberately deceived the people...I have therefore suggested that we should take the bold course of actually appealing to the country on a defence programme, thus turning the Labour party's dishonest weapon into a boomerang.
    • Diary entry (2 August 1935), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 92.

Prime Minister[edit]

  • I myself was not born a little Conservative. I was brought up as a Liberal, and afterwards as a Liberal Unionist. The fact that I am here, accepted by you Conservatives as your Leader, is to my mind a demonstration of the catholicity of the Conservative Party, of that readiness to cover the widest possible field which has made it this great force in the country and has justified the saying of Disraeli that the Conservative Party was nothing if it was not a National Party. 
    • Speech in Caxton Hall, London (31 May 1937) upon his election as Conservative leader, quoted in The Times (1 June 1937), p. 18.
  • There was something else in the example of my father's life which impressed me very deeply when I was a young man, and which has greatly influenced me since I took up a public career. I suppose most people think of him as a great Colonial Secretary and tariff reformer, but before he ever went to the Colonial Office he was a great social reformer, and it was my observance of his deep sympathy with the working classes and his intense desire to better their lot which inspired me with an ambition to do something in my turn to afford better help to the working people and better opportunities for the enjoyment of life.
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, London (12 May 1938), quoted in The Times (13 May 1938), p. 11.
  • In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.
    • Speech at Kettering, (3 July 1938), The Times (4 July 1938)
  • How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.
    • Broadcast (27 September 1938), quoted in "Prime Minister on the Issues", The Times (28 September 1938), p. 10
    • Referring to the Czechoslovakia crisis
  • I would not hesitate to pay even a third visit to Germany, if I thought it would do any good... I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination, life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living: but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake.
    • Broadcast (27 September 1938), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 372.
  • After reading your letter I feel certain that you can get all essentials without war, and without delay. I am ready to come to Berlin myself at once to discuss arrangements for transfer with you and representatives of the Czech government, together with representatives of France and Italy if you desire. I feel convinced that we could reach agreement in a week. However much you distrust the Prague government's intentions, you cannot doubt the power of the British and French governments to see that the promises are carried out fairly and fully and forthwith. As you know, I have stated publicly that we are prepared to undertake that they shall be so carried out. I cannot believe that you will take the responsibility of starting a world war, which may end civilization, for the sake of a few days' delay in settling this long-standing problem.
    • Letter to Hitler (27 September 1938), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 372.
  • Mussolini...hoped Herr Hitler would see his way to postpone action [against Czechoslovakia] which the Chancellor had told Sir Horace Wilson was to be taken at 2 p.m. to-day for at least 24 hours so as to allow Signor Mussolini time to re-examine the situation and endeavour to find a peaceful settlement. In response, Herr Hitler has agreed to postpone mobilisation for 24 hours. Whatever views hon. Members may have had about Signor Mussolini in the past, I believe that everyone will welcome his gesture of being willing to work with us for peace in Europe. That is not all. I have something further to say to the House yet. I have now been informed by Herr Hitler that he invites me to meet him at Munich to-morrow morning. He has also invited Signor Mussolini and M. Daladier. Signor Mussolini has accepted and I have no doubt M. Daladier will also accept. I need not say what my answer will be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thank God for the Prime Minister!"] We are all patriots, and there can be no hon. Member of this House who did not feel his heart leap that the crisis has been once more postponed to give us once more an opportunity to try what reason and good will and discussion will do to settle a problem which is already within sight of settlement. Mr. Speaker, I cannot say any more. I am sure that the House will be ready to release me now to go and see what I can make of this last effort. Perhaps they may think it will be well, in view of this new development, that this Debate shall stand adjourned for a few days, when perhaps we may meet in happier circumstances.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 September 1938). Chamberlain received Hitler's invitation to Munich as he was ending his speech.
  • This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine.... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.
Neville Chamberlain
  • I am sure that some day the Czechs will see that what we did was to save them for a happier future. And I sincerely believe that what we have at last opened the way to that general appeasement which alone can save the world from chaos.
    • Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury (2 October 1938), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 375.
  • Is this the end of an old adventure, or the beginning of a new; is this the last attack upon a small state or is it to be followed by others; is this in fact a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force?
    • Speech in Birmingham (17 March 1939), quoted in The Times (18 March 1939), p. 12. On 15 March Hitler had invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in contravention of the Munich Agreement.
  • I do not think anyone would question my sincerity when I say that there is hardly anything I would not sacrifice for peace, but there is one thing which I must except and that is the liberty which we have enjoyed for hundreds of years and which we will never surrender...No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that, because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fibre that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it were ever made.
    • Speech in Birmingham (17 March 1939), quoted in The Times (18 March 1939), p. 12.
  • I often think to myself that it's not I but someone else who is P.M. and is the recipient of those continuous marks of respect and affection from the general public who called in Downing Street or at the station to take off their hats and cheer. And then I go back to the House of Commons and listen to the unending stream of abuse of the P.M., his faithlessness, his weakness, his wickedness, his innate sympathy with Fascism and his obstinate hatred of the working classes.
    • Letter to Hilda Chamberlain (28 May 1939), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 293.
  • No doubt the Jews aren't a lovable people; I don't care about them myself; but that is not sufficient to explain the Pogrom.
    • Letter to a sister, Chamberlain Papers (30 July 1939)
  • I do not propose to say many words tonight. The time has come when action rather than speech is required. Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility. But, at any rate, I cannot wish for conditions in which such a burden should fall upon me in which I should feel clearer than I do to-day as to where my duty lies...We shall stand at the bar of history knowing that the responsibility for this terrible catastrophe lies on the shoulders of one man—the German Chancellor, who has not hesitated to plunge the world into misery in order to serve his own senseless ambitions.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 September 1939) on the British ultimatum to Germany
  • It now only remains for us to set our teeth and to enter upon this struggle, which we ourselves earnestly endeavoured to avoid, with determination to see it through to the end. We shall enter it with a clear conscience, with the support of the Dominions and the British Empire, and the moral approval of the greater part of the world. We have no quarrel with the German people, except that they allow themselves to be governed by a Nazi Government. As long as that Government exists and pursues the methods it has so persistently followed during the last two years, there will be no peace in Europe. We shall merely pass from one crisis to another, and see one country after another attacked by methods which have now become familiar to us in their sickening technique. We are resolved that these methods must come to an end. If out of the struggle we again re-establish in the world the rules of good faith and the renunciation of force, why, then even the sacrifices that will be entailed upon us will find their fullest justification.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 September 1939) on the British ultimatum to Germany
  • This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note, stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany. … It is evil things that we will be fighting against—brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution—and against them I am certain that the right will prevail.
    • Broadcast from the Cabinet Rooms at 10 Downing Street (3 September 1939)
  • Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do; that is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much. I cannot tell what part I may be allowed to play myself; I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (3 September 1939) announcing war with Germany
  • As you know I have always been more afraid of a peace offer than of an air raid.
    • Letter to Ida Chamberlain (8 October 1939), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 355.
  • I stick to the view I have always held that Hitler missed the bus in September 1938. He could have dealt France and ourselves a terrible, perhaps a mortal, blow then. The opportunity will not recur.
    • Letter to Hilda Chamberlain (30 December 1939), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 355.
  • The result was that when war did break out German preparations were far ahead of our own, and it was natural then to expect that the enemy would take advantage of his initial superiority to make an endeavour to overwhelm us and France before we had time to make good our deficiencies. Is it not a very extraordinary thing that no such attempt was made? Whatever may be the reason—whether it was that Hitler thought he might get away with what he had got without fighting for it, or whether it was that after all the preparations were not sufficiently complete—however, one thing is certain: he missed the bus.
    • Speech to the Central Council of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations at Central Hall, Westminster (4 April 1940), quoted in "Confident of Victory," The Times (5 April 1940), p. 8.
    • Hitler began the 'Westfeldzug' five weeks later and entered France at the beginning of june. June 10th, Paris was declared to be an 'open town.

Post-Prime Ministerial[edit]

  • We are a solid and united nation, which would rather go down to ruin than admit the domination of the Nazis...If the enemy does try to invade this country, we will fight him in the air and on the sea; we will fight him on the beaches with every weapon we have...We shall be fighting...with the conviction that our cause is the cause of humanity and peace against cruelty and wars; a cause that surely has the blessing of Almighty God.
    • Broadcast (30 June 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 449.
  • Give us another 3 or 4 months of production, not more hampered than it is at present, and we shall have something over, with which we can make ourselves disagreeable in many ways, and many places. We could perhaps take a stronger line with Japan then, even though we still got no help from the U.S.A. ...People ask me how we are going to win this war. I suppose it is a very natural question, but I don't think the time has come to answer it. We must just go on fighting as hard as we can, in the belief that some time—perhaps sooner than we think—the other side will crack.
    • Letter to his sister (14 July 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 449.
  • It is not inconceivable that human civilisation should be permanently overcome by such evil men and evil things, and I feel proud that the British Empire, though left to fight alone, still stands across their path, unconquered and unconquerable.
    • Last broadcast (11 October 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 454.
  • I will confess to you that never for one moment have I had any doubt that I had to do what I did, and when I look back I don't see what more I could have done, having regard to the state of public opinion and the sharpness of party feeling. That is a tremendous solace to me. Few men can have known such a reversal of fortune in so short a time.
    • Letter to Archbishop of Canterbury (14 October 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 455.
  • Never for one single moment have I doubted the rightness of what I did at Munich, nor can I believe that it was possible for me to do more than I did to prepare the country for war after Munich, given the violent & persistent opposition I had to fight against all the time.
    • Letter to Stanley Baldwin (17 October 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 456.

About[edit]

Alphabetized by author
  • You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!
    • Leo Amery, concluding his speech in the "Norway debate" (7-8 May 1940), in the British Parliament's House of Commons. In saying these words, he was echoing what Oliver Cromwell had said as he dissolved the Long Parliament in 1653. As quoted in Neville Chamberlain: A Biography by Robert Self (2006), p. 423
  • Neville annoys me by mouthing the arguments of complete pacifism while piling up armaments.
    • Clement Attlee in a letter to Tom Attlee (22 February 1939), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 177
  • It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour.
    • Winston Churchill, Speech to House of Commons on 12th November 1940, 3 days after his death.
  • What a Chamberlain government would have done had there been no war in 1939 will never be known, but an election was due in 1940, and the manifesto proposals outlined by the Conservative Research Department embraced family allowances and the inclusion of insured persons' dependants in health cover—about half the advances usually attributed to Beveridge. As Lady Cecily Debenham wrote to Chamberlain's widow, Anne, after his death: "Neville was a Radical to the end of his days. It makes my blood boil when I see his ‘Tory’ and ‘Reactionary’ outlook taken as a matter of course because the Whirligig of Politics made him leader of the Tory party."
  • I would like to testify that you did more than any former British Statesman to make a true friendship between the peoples of our two countries possible, and, if the task has not been completed, that it has not been for want of goodwill on your part. I hope that you may still be able to work for, and that we may both be spared to see, the realisation of our dreams,—to see our two peoples living side by side with a deep neighbourly sense of their value one to another, and with a friendship which will make possible whole-hearted co-operation between them in all matters of common interest.
    • Eamon de Valera to Chamberlain (15 May 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 311.
  • No man could have done more to save the world from this war. Your efforts to secure peace gave to our cause a moral strength that can never be disregarded. For this all who have regard for Britain's honour must be profoundly grateful. You have saved us from a war at a moment when we were unready, and if others had been sincere and faithful to their pledges would have prevented hostilities in Europe perhaps for generations. You will surely receive the reward of those who are promised the blessing of peace-makers.
    • Cardinal Hinsley to Chamberlain (5 October 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), p. 462.
  • If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers.
    • Adolf Hitler after the Munich Agreement, quoted by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle Macmillan (1959), p. 135
  • I cannot but add that I have always been a supporter and defender of your policy when you were Prime Minister. I am sure that it was right. In view of the attitude of France and of the unreadiness of this country for which you were in no way to be blamed, it would have been folly to precipitate then a war with Germany. It was your strength of will and purpose and self-restraint that saved us from that mistake. When the time to meet the challenge of Hitler came, you had made it plain to the whole impartial world that you had done everything possible to keep Europe from war, and to fix the blame for that calamity on the unbridled ambition of Hitler. You enabled your country to enter the war with a clear conscience and a united will.
    • Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Gordon Lang to Chamberlain (6 October 1940), quoted in Keith Feiling, Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1946), pp. 462-463.
  • Mr Chamberlain views everything through the wrong end of a municipal drain-pipe.
    • David Lloyd George, as quoted in Rats! (1941) by "The Pied Piper", p. 108; similar remarks have also been attributed to Winston Churchill in later works, including Neville Chamberlain : A Biography (2006) by Robert C. Self, p. 12
  • No conqueror returning from a victory on the battlefield has come home adorned with nobler laurels than MR CHAMBERLAIN from Munich yesterday, and KING and people alike have shown by the manner of their reception their sense of his achievement.
  • Monsieur J'aime Berlin [Mr. I-love-Berlin].
    • French nickname for Chamberlain (punning on the sound of "Chamberlain" in French)

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